Being a big fan of all things environmental, I’m always excited when I read how engineers have developed systems that might help us to recycle more of our electronic waste.
So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I discovered earlier this year that a Limerick University engineer by the name of Dr Lisa O’Donoghue had won a Young Entrepreneur of the Year award for her work developing a piece of equipment that can automatically recycle LCD displays.
Currently, no device exists in the market to address the recycling of the millions of LCD screens, and O’Donoghue believes that her system will allow LCD monitors to be safely disposed of into valuable computer waste, providing a sustainable and eco-friendly solution.
I was desperate to learn more about the machine that the young engineer had developed, so I called her on the telephone, hoping to discover how she had designed it. Sadly, however, O’Donoghue couldn’t reveal too many operational details, because many of the aspects of it were, at that time, being patented by the university. And that was a pity, because it certainly sounded a most intriguing system.
Several months have passed since I spoke to O’Donoghue, but I thought of her just last week when a friend of mine asked me to take a broken vacuum cleaner for disposal at a mobile recycling facility that is dispatched by the local council every Friday to a location not far from the local village hall.
Naturally enough, I had hoped that the council might have deployed a machine for recycling my unwanted electronic consumer waste that was not entirely dissimilar to the one that had been developed by O’Donoghue. Sadly, however, the actual recycling unit was not quite as ‘high-tech’ as that.
In fact, it was no more than a large rear-loading refuse truck with a hydraulic blade that could be activated by the driver to push the electronic waste into the body of the vehicle, mashing it all up into fine particles as it did so.
When I asked the driver exactly what I was supposed to do with the old vacuum cleaner, he informed me that I should ‘just throw it in the back’. Aware of the fact that the truck would crush my waste into a million pieces, I asked him how it would then be sorted. He said that work would be done ‘back at the depot’.
I couldn’t help but think that this was clearly not an optimal solution to recycling electronic waste at all, and I returned home somewhat saddened and disappointed by the whole not-so-environmentally-friendly experience.
Clearly though, there’s a real market opportunity for O’Donoghue here if she might bring her expertise to bear to develop a general-purpose recycling machine that could disassemble any number of different types of electronic products. If she would, the least that my council should do is to reward her efforts by being the first in the country to replace its existing low-tech solution.
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